May 22, 2007

Begging - The Lucrative Profession

A profession seems to have recently gained a lot of prevalence in Lagos. It's not Engineering or Law, neither is it Banking or Medicine. It's called begging! Yes, you heard right, Begging ... and it seems to be a very noble and lucrative profession indeed. Gone are the days when beggars were just the group of people who approach your car at traffic lights singing your praises and raining curses on your enemies. Today, there seems to be a new breed of professional beggars who have graduated from the streets. These people dress well in good clothes, speak good English and look like the average respectable Nigerian. Some of them even have cars. They carefully select prospective "Clients", approach them and tell some sad and moving story which are so cleverly cooked up it's difficult to tell if they're true or not. I've had several encounters with these professionals, and they have all put my mind in a state of ponder. I'll capture a few below.

I was at the car park of The Palms Shopping Mall where I had gone to shop for a few things. As I started my car and was about to drive off, I heard a knock on my window. I looked out and saw a young man presumably in his early 30s dressed in a good looking native attire. My first impression was that he recognized me from somewhere and wanted to rekindle our acquaintance. I let down my windshield and the conversation went thus -
Man: Good afternoon, I'm sorry to bother you.
Me: [Now thinking he had a car problem and needed to borrow a tool] No problem
Man: I can see you are a corporate guy. I'm also a corporate guy. I work for so and so bank. [A new generation bank]
Me: Ok?
Man: I'm sorry to bother you, actually I have a daughter in the hospital ... [he then proceeded to tell me a very touching story] ... please I need your help. Nothing is too small.
Now I was not in the best of moods. I had come all the way from Ikeja to Lekki without getting what I came for and I was running late for work. So I just discarded of him as gently as I could. I wondered if he really worked for the bank he mentioned, if he did he should have lots of colleagues and friends who could help him out in his financial situation. He wouldn't need to beg from an unknown stranger. He was obviously telling lies - an essential skill in the begging profession.

The next incident happened within an estate where I had gone to see a friend. While driving by, I saw a middle aged lady standing by a car waving at me. I could see her car was empty and it looked like she was having car trouble. The time was about 6:30 pm. The conversation went thus.
Lady: Good evening sir
Me: Good evening. How can I help you?
Lady: I've run out of fuel. [I was now thinking she needed an empty gallon or a lift to the filling station - how wrong i was!]
Lady: Please can you help me with fuel money? Any amount will do.
Me: [now suspicious] Do you have an empty Keg?
Lady: Someone collected it and went to help me look for fuel and the person has not come back.
Me: Is he someone you know?
Lady: No
Me: Ah, maybe he has run away with your money?
Lady: No I didn't give him money
At this point, I was like why on earth would you give a stranger your keg and send him to look for fuel without giving him money? It was obvious she was lying. Some minutes later when I drove past the same road, both Car and Woman had disappeared. Where she got fuel to move the car, I don't know. I'm also curious to about how much she made during that brief period.

Another incident happened in front of a fast foods outlet. I had just got into my car when a bespectacled and respectable looking middle aged man approached me. He had earlier been standing by a post casually reading a newspaper and looked like he was waiting for someone. The conversation went thus -
Man: Sorry to disturb you. I lecture at so and so university. (a popular university). My wife is in the hospital. I need money to ... [ and the usual yada yada ].
I didn't even bother replying. I just drove off. Since that day I've seen the same man a couple of times at the same post still holding a newspaper and pretending to be waiting for someone. It's obviously a favorite pastime of his.

The next incident occured at a filling station where I had just joined the fuel queue. A man came to my windscreen.
Man: Oga, do you want to fill up your tank or just buy a fixed amount?
Me: (thinking he was an official of the station) I want to fill up.
Man: (switching to Yoruba). E de jo e help me pelu owo die ki emi na ra epo die. (please spare me some money so I can buy some fuel)
I was like what? Who on earth is this guy? When I didn't reply him, he went to the next car and tried the same gimmick. He got no favorable replies, so he just walked away. I watched him. He didn't walk towards any car. I don't think he was at the station to buy fuel. He was just engaging in his part-time profession. Begging.

The last incident I'll mention happened a few days ago. I was leaving church with some of my friends when a young man came to meet me.
Man: Please I'm going to Sango Otta. (we were in Ilupeju which was very far from Sango-Otta) Please help me.
Me: I'm not going towards Sango Otta. I'm going to Ikeja.
Man: Please can you help me with money for transport?
I was like damn! where do you all get your stories from? My friend started laughing and said "They usually are going to Sango Otta and they usually don't have transport money". Apparently, he had been approached by a couple of people peddling the same story.

All these events have really set me thinking. I could talk on about those who parade places like Mr Biggs and Sweet Sensation, sit at your table pretending to be customers and suddenly start asking you for money. I could go on and on recounting experiences with people who sit beside you in buses and beg you for money. Some of these people might really be in a fix, but a good number are just liars looking for a way to swindle you out of your hard earned money. This reminds me of a comment made by a friend, "It does not matter if they look good and speak well or if they are just normal beggars on the street. They beg because they have a need they are trying to fulfill" But then, what really is a need? I mean we all need money, don't we? But we don't go out to the streets to beg for it, do we? So what really drives these people to begging? Granted, the economy is not favorable. The rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. But is that enough reason?

I will appreciate it if you can share your experiences and your views on this issue. It's a fast growing menace getting bigger by the day. Our country is too rich for so many people to stoop so low. May God bless and keep Nigeria. Amen.


ExcitedJade said...

Very funny... dont mind this pple o, i remember the last time i was in naija, that a very well dressed man came begging me for money... after a while, he said i was stingy.. sho! bcos i didnt give him money.

Tayo, how u dey jare?

tokunbo said...

I had discussed such(on begging especially in Lagos) with a colleague and what he asked was: Would I be happier that these beggars resorted to Armed Robbery?...that at least these beggars are humble enough to sit by the roadside, stretch out their arms, or some that tell fables here and there,etc. What if they brandished a gun or a knife? the story wont be the same.

The ones that piss me off are those that carry babies around, disgigure the babies(pour dirt and sand on their heads, wear torn clothes for the kid) and use them as a 'compassion tool'. I wish some human rights orgs could arrest such men and women.

My brother once told me about a beggar he had given money to, 10naira or so, and twas like an hour later, my brother saw the same man inside Mr. Biggs eating lunch. He was like....what da!!

There was another one I saw begging somewhere. The next day Saturday, I saw the same guy in Ikeja with his arms around a girl....I myself was like....what da!!

ijebuman said...

Professional begging is a common feature in most major cities of the world, there's a lot of it here in London too.

On a lighter note, (not that naijas do it here) but there's a middle aged naija woman at Paddington station that probably does it for a living, i've seen her there many times and her modus operandi is to ask if you're African/Nigerian before giving you some sob story about needing money to get home.

truth said...

It's sad that these modern days beggers set these trends cos there are actually well-off people that find themselves stuck in situations and are forced to beg.

I have had a close encounter.....
There was fuel scarcity and though I prepared for the high bus fares my budget cldn't match what I encountered. By the time I got to Yaba, I was down to nothing. I hoped to bump into a friend since it was the Unilag campus route but that didn't happen. My bank had a campus branch but Unilag was on strike due to a police-driven student killing so the campus buses were not running and movement on campus was restricted. I opted to ask a close route bus driver for a free ride to the campus gate. He ignored me!

Eventually I took the risk of taking a cab to the bank while praying I'd be allowed on campus and the bank wld be open.
Luckily I was able to withdraw money and pay off the cab man. I think he patiently waited at the bank( you know Naija cab men are usually impatient)cos I cried all the way to the bank and he kept asking,"kilon she e?(lol)

My point: I was undoubtably well-dressed and well-off and it was difficult convincing the bus driver(or anyone else) that I had no dime in my 'prada' bag(lol).

Take care.

aloted said...

It's really amazing,I hear some of these so called beggars, the ones that beg on the road actually use the money they get to build houses in their villages! Some even have high-tech cellphones!..It seems begging is fast becoming a lucrative business in Naija o.
As for the advanced beggars, all dressed up and stuff (one approached me and a friend in church just this last week sunday) I have no pity for them because I think they are just plain lazy. They would rather beg than work. It is just a pathetic situation!

akin aworan said...

Very funny. Incidently I had a problem like this just yesterday which I hope to blog about today. Take care bro.


Rotimi said...

This is so true. You know I have to ask God to help me not shut up my bowels of compassion because of these miscreants. I have fallen for the people from church going to Iyana Ipaja/ Sango and always wondered how they got to church so far from home in the first place without provision for how they would get back. You left out the guys with ID cards from schools who say they are stranded at motor parks. This is growing not out of poverty but laziness. It's the same mentality breeding area boys who stand on the road and harass both public and private vehicles, garage chairmen who sit and expect returns for keeping the 'peace', militants in the Niger delta who have taken to kidnapping toddlers whose parents work in oil companies, yahoo boys who work tirelessly to swindle people out of their hard earned money and the list goes on and on. This is the end result of an economy that does not encourage hard work. We can start to make a difference though in our own small way by not patronizing these 'beggars' until they go out of business. Those of us who are suckers for heartrending stories should limit them to 'Stories that touch the heart'. Encourage young people around you that 'working smarter and not harder' does not mean work corruptly. But keep those bowels of compassion open. Someone might just really need your help.

Tayo said...

@excited jade, i dey o, the guy has guts.
@tokunbo,interesting point you raised there. It's better to be approached by beggars than the beggar with arms around a girl
@Ijebuman, so it happens in London too? Na wa o!
@truth, lol. Can you imagine me sitting beside you in that cab? Would you ask me for help?
@aloted, I agree with you. Most of these guys are lazy. Period!
@akin aworan, thanks for visiting. Will be @ ur blog to read about urs.
@Rotimi, I can't agree with you more. There is so much menace in our society .. too many! Hopefully, all that'll will change with the new administration.
@All, thanks for your comments and thanks for visiting

Freelance said...

Nice one Tayo. I am feeling your blog. Keep up the good work!

Ishtar said...

Very interesting read!

Greetings, Ishtar

Anonymous said...

Hi Tayo,its real good coming across a rich web like are a great guy.
looking 4ward to give comment(s) as at when neccessary.

Anonymous said...

wo, you people should thank God you have jobs that pay your bills... you'd probably understand where some of these people are coming from if you were to go a couple of months without the usual end of month pepe..

africa entertainment and sports said...

I was walking down Isale Eko one evening when I met a friend and stopped momentarily to exchange pleasantries.Shortly after resuming my walk,a deep but pleasant-sounding voice jolted me from behind:"hey,Mr....(my real name),how was your day?".Of course I had to stop and look back,but what did I see? A scruffy-looking area boy who apparently had eavesdropped on the conversation i just had with my friend.He offered a handshake,elaborated on how fine my suit and shoes were,and of course proceeded to beg for money.The most interesting part of it was,this guy spoke impeccable English!

queenzy said...

No be small lucrative business oo, big one at that

Some beggars are richer than civil servants by farrrrrr

There is a beggar who stands close to where I live and he uses an expensive cell phone. I even blogged about it recently